The boy next door has a little edge to him to go with that .400-plus on-base percentage, 1.000-plus OPS and unsurpassed versatility in the field. A little edge is a very good thing.
Kris Bryant still doesn’t give a you-know-what. It might just be the biggest deal in baseball this season.
Let’s put that right at the top, though we’ll leave out the boy next door’s memorable expletive uttered in September 2020 for the sake of your virgin ears.
But back to that in a blanking minute.
As Chicago’s baseball teams neared the conclusion of last year’s 60-game regular season, things were coming apart at the seams.
The White Sox were spiraling — from best record in the American League to coldest team in the playoff field — with a dizzying 2-8 finish. If there was a low point, it came in Game 55, during a four-game sweep in Cleveland, when the Indians won on a 10th-inning blast by Jose Ramirez to cap a four-run rally.
Cubs hitters, meanwhile, were missing everything that moved. Especially the big bats — linchpins Javy Baez, Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant — and that foretold inevitable doom. The end of the season felt like the beginning of a long, hard goodbye to three stars who each had one season to go before free agency.
So we can all agree that 2021 is going far better on both sides of town, even if the records through nearly 60 games are similar. The Sox’ starting pitching has become the backbone of a deeper, more well-rounded team. Rookie designated hitter Yermin Mercedes has been a revelation. Jose Abreu throws another RBI on the pile before pouring his morning coffee. For the Cubs, a parade of little-known players has stepped in for injured veterans and come through. The bullpen has been startlingly good. And Baez and Bryant, at least, seem to be all the way back.
The Sox look like real World Series contenders, not the pretenders they were a year ago. And the Cubs? They don’t quite stack up that high, but — like any group that adds up to more than the sum of its parts — they’re easy to get behind.
And when you wake up on June 1 and both teams are not only in first place but also coming off blistering months of May — 19-10 for the Sox, 19-8 for the Cubs — you don’t even want to reach for the snooze button.
OK, back to Bryant. Did we mention he still doesn’t give a rip?
To put a finer point on it, as if it weren’t obvious enough: The former MVP’s days of fretting about what fans and media say he is or isn’t are buried in the rearview.
“I’m kind of to the point where whatever is said, just anything in general out there in the public, it’s not of concern to me,” he said the other day. “That’s important to kind of get to that point in your career, because everybody goes through it. I don’t know if everybody goes through huge successes and then failures, getting to the top of the mountain and then kind of falling down a little bit and working your way back up, but it’s just kind of a natural career arc for me so far.”
The boy next door has a little edge to him to go with that .300-plus average, .400-plus on-base percentage, 1.000-plus OPS and unsurpassed versatility in the field. A little edge is a very good thing.
Not resilient enough? Not clutch enough? Not happy enough on the field? Not worthy of an elite-level extension from the Cubs? Give him a break. Not that he needs the likes of us to validate him anymore.
“I feel like I’m just in a good place for me to just not worry about anything out there,” he said.
No worries? Now that’s a breakthrough. Two months in, there isn’t a better player story in the league.
In the wild-card era (starting in 1995), according to the Elias Sports Bureau, teams alone in first place on June 1 have won their divisions approximately three-fifths of the time. On a coincidental note, approximately three-fifths of these predictions will come true:
1. As appreciation of his has-gloves-will-travel versatility spreads, Bryant will become the biggest climber the rest of the way in the NL MVP race. He’s currently seventh in odds to win the award, according to DraftKings. Seventh is silly.
2. Just give the Mets’ Jacob deGrom his third Cy Young already, will you?
3. Another RBI title for Abreu in the AL? It doesn’t matter. The Sox will win their division going away. That’s what matters.
4. I’m still taking the Cardinals in the NL Central. Look, what do you want from me?
5. Cubs president Jed Hoyer will sleep next year. That trade deadline is coming like a freight train.
• Bryant has a terrific message for kids who love to play baseball:
“Pride yourself in being able to play all the positions that you can,” he said. “Real baseball players want to see someone who can just go out there and play baseball and be thrown in different positions and different gloves and be able to look like they’ve done it before.”
One more time for the helicopter parents in the back.
• No offense to Padres second baseman Jake Cronensworth, but Baez probably was referring to Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado and Eric Hosmer when he said: “That’s a great infield. It’s an expensive infield.”
Translation: We’ll have what they’re having.
All three are on essentially career-length deals, for a combined $788 million. At the least, Cubs ownership could’ve had the decency to kick in some pocket lint to go with Yu Darvish.